Monthly Archives: January 2015

The Way Forward is Helping People; The Way Through is Helping Yourself

Ed McCann, Jr. and Steven G. Watkins

The way forward is helping others

The way through is helping yourself

by Jill Wallace

             His actions were bold and screamed entitlement. I was speechless, a bit uneasy and somewhat afraid as we drove up 67th street looking for parking. There wasn’t an empty space in sight. I just knew we had to trample through the frigid cold and dirty snow like most of the people gathered to pay tribute, an annual event, to the late, Harold Washington at Oakwood Cemetery this past November.

Elected officials, clergy and others who hold some prominence in Chicago had created a middle parking lane with squad cards blaring a screen of protection, keeping oncoming traffic at bay.   I chuckled thinking that Eddie L. McCann, Jr. believed he had earned the right to be in front and first in line, like current elected officials without anyone grumpling or complaining. He was once one of the prominent ones and makes it known that he still is.  He’s in charge, still calling the shots and making plans while leaning like a Boss in the passenger seat of the car.

He gestured for me to stop in the middle of the street. “Right here, park right here,” he says. I’ll get a ticket and towed, I say. He counters, e”No, I’ll just let the officers know to spread the word that this is Ed McCann’s car.”

I take my chances and do as I’m told while quickly getting out so we don’t miss the tribute. As I walk around to the passenger side, Ed is still maneuvering his body trying to get out of the truck. I think about telling him to sit up so getting out is easier, and decide immediately against it.

Eddie L. McCann, Jr. was born and raised on Chicago’s south side.   He is known as the go-to guy for many elected Chicago politicians, and has helped many get elected including Carol Moseley Braun, Jesse Jackson, Jr., Pat Quinn, and Dick Durbin. His role is always to get to the common folks, people at the bottom as well as the top with his quick witted, no nonsense approach with reaching out to underserved and underrepresented populations.   He’s worked on political campaigns since he was 14, serving with his Godfather, Bishop Louis Henry Ford and former Alderman Ralph Metcalf.

“They taught me the importance of helping people, being honest – brutally honest, having integrity, and to have passion for whatever you do.”.

Ed toyed with his passion of becoming a police officer immediately after graduation from high school. He set his hopes on entering the Police Academy by the time he was nineteen. But the violence and race–triggered police brutality issues that plagued Chicago and other US cities didn’t sit well with his mom. “She just didn’t believe I would survive being a police officer to help people because it was dangerous. She thought I could succeed just as well working in city government and continuing my helping with political campaigns”. Ed appeased him mom and promised her that he would never become a police officer.

So, he began a career working in city and county government and politics that would prepare him for his biggest calling. Two major roles in government launched his career. First, as the Legislative Assistant to Harold Washington. “Mayor Washington , – was full of grit and sophistication. He taught me the importance of persistence. He’d often, out of nowhere, remind me that nobody is going to give you anything. Be prepared to take what you want, read to understand the underlying story, work toward being respected and not so much liked.”

As a supervisor for the Chief Medical Examiner, where he oversaw natural deaths, Ed learned the importance of having compassion.   He’d often have the responsibility of speaking with families about the details of a loved one’s death. The delicate balance of being compassionate and having grit would prove more important in years to come.

At 29, with ten years under his belt working in government, he was bored and wanted more but he stayed and used the seniority and time he’d accumulated for personal days to spend time and care for his ill mother. She had developed Sarcadoisis – a lung disease with an unknown cause and no cure, which led to her being diagnosed with Emphysema. Almost a year to the day of her diagnosis, Ed’s mother died. “Just like that, snapping his fingers. She left me but didn’t have to worry about my safety because I held to my promise.”

Ed was in dark place. A sad place. He was emotionally bankrupt and grieved not only his mother’s passing, but for himself. His career was stale and he did not see the light to save his soul. “I was hurt so I knew it was time to get into me. I’d go into a dark room and ask myself, Ed, what are you depressed about, what’s wrong with you? I knew what was wrong.”

He needed motivation and decided that he needed to motivate himself instead of looking to others for the magic wand remembering the lessons from his mentor, Mayor Harold Washington. His mom was gone and she could no longer worry about her son’s safety.

Two tasks lingered after her death. Her funeral and to reactivate his application to become a Chicago Police Officer. “I buried my mom but my dream hadn’t died. I only did what my mom wanted me to do.   She’s gone”, he said, head bowed, body reclined in an upright chair, remembering that moment thirty-four years ago.

At thirty, Ed McCann was clad in uniform as a Chicago Police Officer. Working a beat and moving up the ranks in 23 years, he only wanted to put bad guys – specifically rapists, murderers and robbers away, behind bars for a very long time. “It was personal for me. I wouldn’t go home or sleep until we caught them and brought them to justice. I put people in jail and didn’t care what color they were. I enforced the law, not someone’s color.”

Ed was successful with solving crimes by building relationships with good neighbors, a skill he learned years ago. “Neighbors would call and tell me who the criminals were and when something bad was about to happen. I depended on good neighbors and in return I made sure they had the services they needed from government. “

In 1995 and again in 1999, while still a Chicago Police Officer, Ed McCann ran for alderman of the 18th Ward, but both times the incumbent defeated him. He still believed in politics and knew there was a shot at serving a bigger cause – for someone to fight for the voiceless. He failed to win, but it didn’t stop his drive. “I lost but I’m not a failure. I have no reason to throw in the towel and feel defeated because failure isn’t in my blood. I didn’t grow up poor or raggedy. Our needs were met. And I’ll keep fighting to meet the needs of the people.”

After 23 years of notable success as a Cook County Police Officer, John Stroger, then President of the Cook County Board asked Ed to put his name in the hat and apply for the Chief of Police of the Forest Preserve position. “Stroger noticed that I had skills and courage. He told me he believed I could do the job.” Ed wanted to be a big boss and this was his chance. He got the position amid controversy. To many, that he had only served less than two years as a patrolmen didn’t qualify him to become Chief of Police of the Cook County Forest Preserve – the boss of 80,000 acres of Cook County forest land, the 2nd largest forest preserve in the nation, (Los Angeles is the largest) and the largest police department in Cook County. According to others, he earned the position, the title and long term friendship with John Stroger. Ed set out with two goals: To get results and to restructure the department.

A few years into the job, he began to accept that some people weren’t crazy about him.   “I’m hot or cold. There’s no room for the middle.”

McCann said he had chastised an officer for wearing dress shoes while working in the forest. The officer began complaining about Ed to co-worker, an ally on the Chicago police force. He continued to wear the inappropriate shoes until Ed disciplined him for insubordination. The officer called in the union and was told “that he was under the supervision of the Chief of Police and was to follow all commands and rules given.” The officer quit and, McCann said that the officer started a smear campaign against him that didn’t last. “People can’t handle the truth and I get results. That’s all that matters”, said McCann.

During his tenure at the Chicago Police Department and Forest Preserve, McCann helped churches on Chicago’s south side coordinate their political affairs. He has also served as the political  consultant to elected officials and politicians, including Carol Moseley Braun, Bill Clinton, Dick Durbin, Pat Quinn, Jesse Jackson, Jr. , Jesse Jackson, Sr., and now, Steven G. Watkins, candidate for Judge of Cook County Circuit Court. Ed’s rate is somewhere in the five-thousand dollar price per month. Steven G. Watkins enlisted Ed’s support for his campaign. “I was told to hire Ed, because he gets results, he knows people and they know him.”

With very little time to sail on Lake Michigan because of the back-to-back campaign wars, Ed continued serving people – through his political work and as Chief of Police – though he had achieved his goals as Chief and had become bored again. His life took a difference course on a sunny January 7, 2008 winter morning. He was having chest pains and decided to exercise by doing jumping jacks in his basement. What he thought was indigestion was really a heart attack. After complaining he was unable to move, McCann was rushed to Christ Hospital’s Emergency Room. Hospital officials greeted the medics and explained that they couldn’t take anymore patients because all of the beds were taken. Ed heard the medics fighting to save his life, “You gotta take him or he won’t make it alive to another hospital. His name is Ed McCann”. Immediately the hospital staff and nurses helped wheel him into the operating room for emergency surgery. “I was out of it, but I could hear nurses and people saying how I helped so many people.”   After surgery, the hospital put a limit of 3 at a time for a few minutes of visitation to Ed McCann. He was hospitalized for a week and received hundreds of cards and countless visitors.

“At that moment, God spared my life. I knew my impact.”

Ed calls the heart attack a crazy twist of fate. “I was at the height of my career as a political consultant, Chief of Police, Boss – all to help people, but I was tired.” He was on medical leave from his duties with orders to rest and heal. Then on January 18, 2008, his friend of 18 years, John Stroger died from complications of a stroke. Ed returned to the hospital from the shock of the news. His heart was in double trouble. Again after being released, he was under 24 hr. care while healing and grieving the loss of his friend. His Cardiologist refused to allow him to attend the funeral. In a good ‘ole persistent fashion, claiming that not attending the funeral would be just as bad for his heart, Ed pressed his doctor and was given permission to attend Stroger’s funeral with specific limitations: (1) he was not to be hugged or touched by anyone and (2) immediately following the funeral he would skip the any other tributes and return home giving his doctor a call from the house phone not his cell phone. “Stoger and I worked so hard for each other. I was instrumental in getting Cook County hospital renamed for him, me and Jesse Jackson, Sr. I had to go, there was no way around it.”

A squad car chauffeured Ed to pay his respect to his friend, with two officers, positioned on both sides, escorting him into the funeral service. “I’d half-smile and whisper to the officers on each side of me – to tell the woman or man that I wasn’t being nasty, but I couldn’t hug them or allow them to get close because I had just gotten out of the hospital.”

After a few months on medical leave and time to think, Ed met with then Cook County Board President, John Steele to share his desire to retire. “I was tired and bored again. I had restructured the department, developed friendships and knew everyone and their character. I wanted to enjoy my life without the pressure and stress.”

He stayed three more years and finally retired March of 2011.

At his 2010 birthday party, 500 guests including elected officials, family, friends and Who’s Who of Chicago celebrated the life and legacy of Eddie L. McCann, Jr. Resolutions and accolades were nonstop for the man who had helped people every day of his life since he was fourteen. Outside, there was no parking available. Valet was fifteen dollars.   A young lad, college student studying Political Science, drives up wondering where he could park. “I’m going to the birthday party for Ed McCann”, he tells the valet attendant. “Leave your car here. We know him.” The young man handed money to the attendant who refused it. “Don’t worry. Just help somebody and pay if forward man.”

An Eyeview of Steven G. Watkins, Candidate for Cook County Circuit Court Judge

Photo Courtesy of Campaign to Elect Steven G. Watkins
Circuit Court judicial candidate, Steven G. Watkins greeting voter

An Eyeview of
Steven G. Watkins, Candidate for Cook County Circuit Court Judge
By Jill Wallace

At 49, Steven G. Watkins decided to run for Cook County Circuit Court Judge again. An unsuccessful run in 2010 prepared him with lessons of perseverance, grit and grind. Watkins says he has always “relied on these traits as a private practicing attorney for over 22 years, and now they serve me in a different way.” He uses them to thrive as a criminal defense and civil attorney while working to outshine his opponent, and earn the respect and votes from voters in the 2nd Subcircuit of Cook County in his quest to become judge.

In October 2013, I began a research internship with Attorney Watkins to gather material for a documentary. The internship has turned into much more than research as I find myself working sometimes 12 to 16 hour days as secretary, receptionist, researcher, clerk, photographer, navigator, editor, organizer, greeter, writer and doing any job necessary, not only because I’m the intern, but also because as he reminds me, “You have skills and must use them all.” My access has allowed me to observe him up close, and usually without filters. His character traits and flaws are many and represent the sum of who he is as a man, father, husband, attorney and possibly judge.

His gray speckled, closely cropped mane, finely tailored suits and shined shoes align with his beliefs in presenting the best image possible and building friendships. “The first thing people notice is how you look, the last thing they remember is how you make them feel and whether you’re a friend to them”, he says. He prides himself on being his own barber since he doesn’t have time to visit a barbershop. Last week, during a candidates’ forum at the PUSH headquarters, his campaign manager, Ed McCann, chided him on his appearance and not adhering to a GQ Magazine standard. “Godson (McCann calls him), I know I taught you better than that. It (tie) has to come all the way down and the suit jacket closed,” said McCann referring to Watkins’ opened suit jacket and too short tie.

Watkins builds relationships with his clients and spends time getting to know “regular people” as he calls them, way into the evening past 9 p.m. on many days. “My lights are always on”, he says. People often stop by his office unannounced because sometimes they need an ear to listen. His office at 75th and St. Lawrence has stood the test of time and remains a community staple even after being burglarized and shot at. . The bullet hole is still visible in the front window just below the awning bearing the name, Steven G. Watkins and Associates, P.C. His passion for providing legal clinics and pro bono work over the years in the crime-ridden neighborhoods on the south side of Chicago is the reason he receives a huge number of referrals for legal representation. Watkins is humble, but not modest. He articulates his weaknesses and knows his strengths. He remains a force to be reckoned with in the courtroom as he is known to take his opponent on on the battlefield fighting for justice and exposing the wrongdoings of prosecutors and police officer’s actions with his clients. Yet he remains respectful and with a controlled temperament toward colleagues.

Photo courtesy of Campaign to Elect Steven G. Watkins
Steven G. Watkins and his mom, Saundra Watkins

Watkins can often be found reclining in his chair with his feet propped on the desk, in a zone, preparing for a trial or campaign speech. He’s oblivious to interns and employees preparing documents, completing tasks and attempting to ask him questions. When interrupted, he looks up in confusion not knowing the question asked or needing to give an immediate response. His desk is covered with law books and research material. He hates Post-it notes, tedious tasks, forms, paperwork, cheap liquor and cheap shoes. His desk is a mess and mirrors his mind of many thoughts, nonstop actions, repeated directions and forgetfulness. Notepads, loose papers with numbers and amounts, names and times are scattered. Strangely though, his gift and talent seems to be remembering any and all things related to numbers.
He’s gentle but a tiger and uses his in-depth knowledge of the law to defend, protect, counsel and initiate deals for his clients. He’s effortlessly likeable, charming, wears a wide smile, but he’s late; often late for client appointments.

His mother, one of the first female conductors for the CTA, has had a “talking to” with him on several occasions about the importance of being punctual. Once during a “talking to” on a Sunday, she said that he “Promised to be on time for appointments beginning that Tuesday.” When she asked why not Monday, he replied, “Because I have a trial that starts on Tuesday”, not remembering what appointments were scheduled for Monday.
He loves the adrenaline from doing criminal trials and was endorsed last week and in 2010 by The Chicago Tribune as “being a good trial lawyer endorsed over five other judicial candidates.”

Early on, his committee was challenged with the task of keeping a tight leash on his calendar, making sure he balances his law practice with campaign events. His advisors faced two problems. First, Watkins’ calendar was usually overbooked as he spent most days literally running from courtroom to courtroom around Chicago, visiting clients, leaving very little time for his campaign. Secondly, his campaign staff did not reach a consensus early on about the strategies for helping him connect with voters. There were very few campaign meetings resulting in campaign volunteers, staff and interns not knowing what was needed and who was completing what task. Everyone appeared to take on the role of just doing whatever without a plan causing many questions to go unanswered and the staff relying on past campaign experiences and deadlines.

As Watkins learned personalities and skill-sets, he began leading himself in the school of campaigning and elections 101, relying mostly on his relationships and the skills of the individuals on his team to delegate tasks. He acknowledges his rookie status in the school of politics and running for elected office. He swears that he’s not a politician. He began to place people in roles where they exhibited natural talent, had experience, expertise or just knew they’d grind and get the assigned job done. Often the lessons were learned after mistakes were made but could’ve been prevented with some degree of teaching. Teaching though, is a role that Attorney-Candidate Watkins refuses to subscribe to or embrace, at least during his campaign. Though teaching is not his forte’, he leads with conviction and sometimes with a bit of uncertainty.

Even with the guidance of an experienced campaign manager presenting ideas and ways to handle obstacles and decisions, Watkins usually ponders a thought and makes the final call himself, using his gut instinct and guided by his utter dislike for confrontation, offensive comments or rudeness. During a judicial forum sponsored by Citizens Newspaper, Watkins missed an opportunity to use the strategy decided upon by him and his campaign that he must begin to highlight the differences and fact that he and his opponent are not equally qualified to be elected judge. His son, Zack, scolded him afterwards saying, “Dad, you missed the chance to point out the differences between you and your opponent. She is not ready.” Watkins smiled and shared later that “Judges and judicial candidates can’t demean each other and I’m a man.”

Currently Watkins is a member of several community organizations. He serves as general counsel for the 100 Black Men of America, Chicago chapter and as the Tenth District Representative for Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. He has also coached basketball, baseball, served on the board of CASA Esperanza and continues to mentor aspiring law students.

Watkins has a way about him that puts people at ease. And perhaps people, his people and clients want more of his time, more face-time. He has a way of making strangers, his clients and friends feel bigger, prouder and more confident.

At a campaign stop and Christmas party in December, Watkins was still a bit reserved with showing that he really is as common and regular as the voters he wants to represent. Finding a way to highlight that has been difficult for his advisers and campaign staff. After all, many of the voters in the 2nd Subcircuit are poor, haven’t attained an undergraduate degree, law degree or sent 3 kids to top colleges (2 college graduates, 1 in law school, 1 a college freshman and 1 working on his campaign). Most of them have not maintained a successful and private law practice representing mostly poor people of color. He’s a thrill seeker, rides motorcycles, has completed several Triathlons and is a member of St. Ailbe’s Catholic Church. He’s been rated qualified and recommended for Circuit Court Judge by the Chicago Bar Association, Cook County Bar Association, Illinois State Bar Association, Black Women Lawyers’ Bar Association, Chicago Council of Lawyers and the Puerto Rican Bar Association of Illinois. He’s been endorsed by the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board, Thornton Township led by Supervisor Frank Zucarelli, Worth Township, the 21st Ward, the 19th Ward, the 34th Ward, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #7, Dearborn Realtist Board and Father Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Church.

Carrie Austin, Alderwoman of the 34th Ward was sponsoring the Christmas party. Watkins wanted her support. His campaign staff urged him to escort her on the dance floor for a line dance. He did. Without much rhythm, he smiled and stayed on beat clapping his hands, “taking it to the floor, hopping and doing the Cha Cha” as the song lyrics instructed. A round of applause met him as he left the dance floor.

He won that night. Let’s see what happens on March 18, 2014.